As you probably know, I work with women and hunger.
ALL hungers. Not just food hungers.
That makes my work infinitely interesting and multifaceted. That’s how’d describe most women too—infinitely interesting and multifaceted.
My clients come to me to explore career hungers, relationship hungers, spiritual hungers, creative hungers, seemingly unnamable hungers, and, yes, sexual hungers.
And we, life coach types, are often known to say “There is nothing wrong with you” to our clients caught in the ego’s illusions. (An aside, Cheri Huber wrote an excellent book by this name.)
But rarely—perhaps because it’s a topic still so shrouded in shame—do we, life coaches or otherwise, come out and extend this fact to our sexual selves.
So allow me:
There is nothing wrong with your sexuality.
There is nothing wrong with who or what you’re attracted to.
There is nothing wrong with what you fantasize about, and whether you want those fantasies to come to life or simply remain in your imagine.
There is nothing wrong with the way your body smells, looks, tastes, or feels.
There is nothing wrong with the shape, appearance, or size of your genitals.
There is nothing wrong with how you like to be touched or how frequently.
There is nothing wrong with your own twisty, turvy, sometimes confusing path to your own sexual awakening.
There is nothing wrong with what gets you off or how frequently you orgasm.
There is nothing wrong with having different sexual preferences than your partner.
There is nothing wrong with having different desires than your parents or society condone.
There is nothing wrong with having an ebb and flow in your interest in having sex.
There is nothing wrong with not knowing your sexual self well or with evolving or changing as a sexual being.
We’re told and sold on such a narrow and messed up concept of women’s sexuality, if we’re even given any concept at all. We don’t have role models in this culture for healthy, real sexuality, so many women are left to come to their own conclusion, which is often that something is wrong with them. Add to this that women’s bodies have been ground zero for centuries of abuse, trauma, shame, neglect, fear, and war.
Here’s the deal: for most women sex is, at least some of the time, a journey, complicated, exhilarating, vulnerable, messy, confusing, uncharted territory, scary, changing, painful, never-like-the-movies, and of course, pleasurable.
Thankfully, there is a sex-positive movement and a growing number of excellent books, sex educators, sex coaches, and sex therapists committed to helping women heal and awaken their sexual selves. If you want support it exists. But please note, wanting to learn, heal, shift, feast, or grow sexually in no way means that there is something wrong with how things are for you right now. Do listen to those calls, but don’t equate them with a problem.
There is nothing wrong with your sexuality. Not. One. Thing.
A few weeks back I went to meet my partner Justin for lunch at his office. He works at one of those tech companies that provides a lavish lunch each day and he’s allowed to have me join him from time to time.
This particular day we met up during the peak of the lunchtime rush. After unsuccessfully scanning the cafeteria for an empty table Justin spotted a co-worker with two empty seats at his table. “Can we join you?” Justin said. “Sure” he replied moving two bowls of food out of the way. “It’s my dinner” he said referring to the two bowls, each topped with another bowl that served as a lid, “I have to eat before 6 pm.”
We nodded, not really listening, attempting a lunch date for two at this table for four.
I was able to get a few bites in before I noticed this co-worker take out a digital scale (You know, the kind a baker might use to measure flour). He then placed both of his dinner bowls on the scale, one at a time, and jotted down their weight in a small, spiral bound notebook.
We’ve got a dieter in our midst, I thought to myself.
I truly didn’t want to engage. I just wanted a nice lunch date with my guy. But, the co-worker asked me what I do (“I’m a life coach”) and then who I work with (“Women, around hunger”) and we were off to the races before I knew it.
After hearing that I work in the realm of hungers he says “Sometimes I can’t sleep because I’m so hungry.”
“Yeah” I nod knowingly, having experienced the same thing when starved myself “the body prioritizes getting enough to eat over getting sleep.”
“My body just really likes to be *** pounds so I really have to starve myself to get it lower.”
“Why? Why do all this? What’s this about?” Justin inquires.
“Vanity” he chirps matter-of-factly back with a nervous smile.
No. Nope, I think to myself, this isn’t a result of vanity.
This is a result of anxiety.
This is a result of not feeling like you’re enough, just as you are.
This is a result of a fractured relationship with your body.
Vanity is an easy scapegoat. Kind of like when we stay in bed all day and call ourselves “lazy” when what’s really going on is something much wiser, deeper, and nuanced.
Vanity is a scapegoat and I’d argue that it’s never once caused someone to go on a diet or fall prey to an eating disorder (a line this particular co-worker was teetering).
We use these behaviors to soothe our worrisome minds and to falsely bring us closer to feeling as though we are enough.
As lunch was winding down he said “I think I have that leptin disorder—the one where your brain doesn’t signal when you’re full. That’s why I have to limit my intake.”
Not able to help myself I replied: “Well, it sounds like you have a history of overriding your body’s cues and keeping your weight below what your body prefers…”
“No, this diet is recent. Before this I was just paleo.” he innocently replies.
I sigh and think to myself, What do you think eating paleo is if not a diet?, but not wanting to engage any more I just said “Well, sounds like what you’re doing is working for you and you should probably get tested for that leptin thing” and we went on our way.
I’m sharing this story because I want to challenge you to think about how you might be mislabeling your behavior. Do you think of yourself as irresponsible with money? Materialistic or vain? What about lazy or undisciplined? Selfish? Wasteful?
Instead of so quickly dismissing your actions with these labels and instead of looking upon yourself with judgement, inquire about what’s really happening.
If you think you’re dieting because your vain, could it be that you’re anxious and dieting (or losing weight or being a certain size) is soothing? Could it be that you’re living in a world gone mad, one that tells you there is no fate worse than being fat, and you don’t yet know how to be at home in your skin?
If you think that you’re careless with money, could it be that you’re afraid that you won’t have (or be) enough, and shopping (temporarily) alleviates that feeling of scarcity? or that you haven’t discovered a more soulful way of relating to your finances?
If you view yourself as lazy, could it be that you’re simply tired? or disconnected from your spark? or expecting yourself to be super-human?
Bottomline: In my experience, what we call vanity, is almost always just anxiety and the hunger to feel enough. We’re too quick to slap a one-word judgement on ourselves. In reality our behavior, when met with compassion, is rich with information about what we’re truly hungry for.
What’s right in front you?
Scan the scene. What’s around you. Look up from the screen for a moment and take it in.
Have a look at the present snapshot of your real life, in the room you’re in, right now.
Here’s what I see:
This might not look like much
But it is.
It’s more than the bare bones of my new office though if that’s all you see I’d understand.
When I look at this scene I see that I listened to myself.
I see a box full of my sewing tool and fabric stash. I listened to the call for this kind of creative expression. I listened to the call for swatches of blue and metallic ivories. I listened to the call to give my sewing practice designated space.
I see a desk that adjusts from standing to sitting with a touch of a button. I see a desk chair with proper lumbar support. I see a computer monitor screen that allows my neck to stay in alignment. I see that I listened to the call of my body for better care while working.
I see a white desk and a gray chair and a bamboo floor mat because, when making design decisions, I listened to the very clear directive for light in all it’s forms.
I see an entire office loft given to me by my partner so that I could better do my work in the world. In that I see I listened to the call for the kind of love that celebrates my taking up space. I see that I listened to call for the kind of love that is steeped in generosity. I see that I listened to the call for love that mirrors back the love, appreciation, and respect I hold for myself.
So it could just be a desk, just a box, just a jumble of wires.
But it’s not.
It’s proof, at least to me, that I listened to myself.
I’ll admit that living a life that’s a result of listening isn’t easy, or fast, or ever perfect. It’s also a practice that never ends as new calls speak up all the time. But, bit by bit, we can make choices that deliver us closer to a well-fed life—which sometimes looks like a desk, a box, and some wires.
Is what surrounds you proof in some way that you heeded your own wise calls?
Or do you see reminders that, maybe, in some important ways, you’ve turned a deaf ear to yourself?
Is what’s right in front of you there because you chose it, because you asked for it, because you claimed it?
When you look at your life do you see evidence that you listened to yourself?
You feel a pea under your mattress and instead of getting rid of the pea you admonish yourself for being a princess.
If it’s not a pea under your mattress, it’s your ill-fitting bra, or expired eyeglass prescription, or ergonomically disastrous work space.
Today is my call to MAKE YOURSELF COMFORTABLE.
I have a client who realized that none of the seating in her living room was comfortable. Everytime she went to ‘relax’ with her husband she would find herself with a sore tailbone.
I have another client who spent years wearing ill-fitting clothing (including her bra) because she refused to accept her body at it’s current size. Everyday she’d struggle to get a full inhale as her chest and waist were corseted by clothing that didn’t match her body.
I’m no different.
Ten years ago I bought an inexpensive mattress that I knew from the first night I slept on it that it was too soft. For ten years I have slept on what is affectionately called “The Marshmallow” despite waking with up serious joint aches and pains. To add insult to injury, I also spent the past four years running my business while contorted over my laptop in this very same squishy mattress.
Well my brilliant body said no more and I’m here to encourage you to listen to what your body might be whimpering about.
The good news is that both clients made the changes they needed to get comfortable. They realized that they deserved to feel good in their home and their lungs.
I too have made some pretty major changes.
New body and earth-friendly mattress? Check.
New electric standing desk? Check.
Regular chiropractic adjustments and massages? Check.
We’re so quick to grit our teeth and bear it. I say it’s not that ‘what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger’ so much as it’s ‘what doesn’t kill us may just be making us really uncomfortable.’
Do consider this my call to you to make whatever changes you need to make to be more comfortable, in less pain, and breathing easier.
You (and I) deserve to be as pain-free as possible.
Check in with yourself right now: what’s the metaphorical (or actual) ‘pebble in your shoe’?
Favorite Comfort-Inducing Items
My response: “Amen.”
I could so relate. Back in 2002 when I was walking my own path of recovery I was enraged. All the hatread I had previously turned inward had found it’s rightful target and it wasn’t my thighs. I was furious with my college for not doing more to prevent and treat eating disorders. I was furious with irresponsible and shallow media outlets for continuing to celebrate thinness. I was furious at the dieting industry for getting away with what I honestly consider crimes against humanity. I was angry and I was going to do something about it. I spent my first year out of college working tirelessly on prevention and outreach efforts. I moved across the country to get my master’s degree knowing my life would be dedicated to righting these wrongs.
Today though, I find it hard to maintain that same fire I had all those years ago. It’s more a steady burn with occasional pyrotechnic explosions.
While I wish it wasn’t true, when injustices and ignorance are in the air we breathe it can be hard to avoid apathy sometimes.
In this moment as I write this I don’t feel apathetic. I feel like I’m living in a world gone mad.
While driving around town last week I listened to a radio interview with a non-verbal autistic woman named Sue Rubin. Sue was able to participate in the interview by typing her responses which her aide read aloud. When I tuned in the interviewer was explaining that some people believe we should not seek a cure for autism and instead embrace autistic people’s differences. Sue responded that people who feel that way tend to be verbal because if they were ‘trapped’ in their bodies, unable to speak, they would want a cure.
Then to close the interview this question was asked: “If there was a pill you could take tomorrow to get rid of your autism would you take it?”
Sue responded with “I would probably take a pill for weightloss first, but to answer your question yes.”
WHAT THE F*CK!
First of all, Sue is not fat, for what it’s worth. Second, she is unable to speak and the first pill she’d want is for weightloss?!
I’m sorry but when being fat is considered so awful people would rather die years sooner or be completely blind than be considered obese something is very very wrong.
Last night I was watching an episode of (the admittedly mediocre) show The Blacklist in which a female character notices her male colleague is self-conscious about losing his hair. This is the their exchange:
Her: Guys don’t get it. Most women don’t care if you go bald. You’re sexy no matter what.
Him: I’m not going bald, I just have a high hairline.
Her: Just don’t get fat.
When I say ignorance is in the air we breathe I mean it. This type of comment, one that perpetuates the myth that being fat means that you’re unattractive or undesirable, is so commonplace that most people hardly notice it. But I notice it. I see it. And it’s not okay.
Last year I learned of a study from a Princeton psychologist that revealed how poverty effects cognitive ability. The basic findings of the study are that poor people’s brains are bogged down by thoughts of scarcity and attempts to find a way to provide for basic needs that they perform more poorly than wealthy people on intelligence tests. The researcher said, “In many instances, it’s not that the poor aren’t as smart or capable of planning compared as richer people, rather, being poor takes up more mental capacity.”
Similarly so many of my clients have given up such enormous portions of their mental real estate to thoughts and behaviors rooted in fat phobia and shame that their capacities to simply live, think, engage, and serve are noticeably truncated.
I think this is one of the biggest misperceptions about commonplace fat shaming and fat humor: that it’s harmless.
It’s not harmless.
Every time we participate, actively or passively, in discrimination and prejudice of any kind we perpetuate the problem.
To be clear: it’s okay to be fat.
Fat people are just like smaller bodied people in every way. Some are lazy, some are not. Some are healthy, some are not. Some are more classically beautiful, some are beautiful in a different way. Some are kind, some are not. Body size does not determine a person’s worth or well being. Some of us are poodles, some of us are mastiffs:
Unfortunately in our society body size can and often does determine how you’ll be treated, perceived, and which opportunities will be available to you.
I may not be on fire or angry everyday, but today I am.
We’re living in a world gone mad.
Twelve years ago this month I was diagnosed with Anorexia.
This week is the annual National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and here’s what I want to say…
Some mental illnesses can be attributed entirely to brain chemistry, but not eating disorders.
Eating disorders have a strong cultural component and our current culture is one that fosters them. You can be a part of the change.
Currently, in the United States, at least 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder. You can play a pivotal part in reducing these numbers. Here are ten ways to get you started.
: Stop consuming the toxic parts of this culture. This means unsubscribe from magazines that celebrate weight-loss. Boycott shows like The Biggest Loser.
: Make a point to celebrate the beauty and brilliance that exists inside and out in every human.
: Move your body because it feels good, not because it needs to be shrunken or punished.
: Eat with pleasure, gusto, presence and in collaboration with the wisdom of your body.
: Notice what example you are setting for younger people in your life about how they should feel about their bodies and about food. Are you encouraging love and ease or fear and angst?
: If you struggle with disordered eating, don’t blame yourself. Look at the f*cked up culture you’re living in and know that a path of healing is available to you.
: Ditch the scale. Seriously. Throw it out or give it to charity. It’s a useless and often harmful tool.
: Surround yourself with body positive people, even if that means seeking out online organizations and groups. The world is increasingly full of loving, awakened, accepting, fierce people taking a stand against our pro-thinness culture.
: Practice self-compassion. If nothing else, this is the most powerful pebble that can ripple out. A world full of people who are kind and peaceful within is a world that is peaceful and kind.
Purely because I enjoy reading posts like this and because I like makeup I’m sharing with you what’s in my bag. I like to keep my possessions fairly paired down to the essentials so this is pretty much the extent of what I use, both for everyday and special occasion. Not pictured: moisturizer, hair elastics, bobby pins, cuticle trimmer, and nail clippers. That’s it. Enjoy!
Stila Eye Shadow in Indigo (use as eye liner)
Generic angled eye shadow brush
Generic eye lash curler
You might think I regret my eating disorder. You might think I look back in shame at all the seemingly wasted energy I spent obsessing about the number on the scale or the food on my plate.
But I don’t have shame.
Instead I have compassion and a deep awareness that at that time I was taking care of myself the very best way that I knew how.
At the time I was in pain and I was anxious, both of which lessened when I focused intensely on food and my body.
I actually think 20-year-old me was pretty resourceful.
Yes, she was also miserable, ill, and hungry. But she was, nevertheless, resourceful, using her limited toolbox as best she could.
As the old adage goes: when you know better, you do better.
I frequently encounter women who feel such self-loathing for all the years spent riding the dieting pendulum, abusing alcohol, or over-spending.
However you cope, it is or was most certainly you taking care of yourself the best way you know or knew how.
I believe that when you know a better way you do it.
Regardless, whatever your salve, self-care is often mislabeled as self-harm and I want to change that.
Let’s forgive ourselves for the hurt our efforts to help ourselves caused.
Let’s celebrate that when we’re hurting our natural tendency is to take care of ourselves by any means necessary. (Look in the mirror, you will see someone who has, all along, been on your team).
And finally, once we’ve forgiven and seen the goodness of our true nature, we can move towards the discovery of effective, less-harmful self-care methods.
If it’s time for you to make your toolbox more robust…
If you’re ready for the resilient life that comes after you forgive yourself…
If you understand that being a sensitive soul comes with a different life-playbook…
If stepping fully into the roles of advocate, soft-place-to-fall, ally, lover, champion, and oxygen-giver for yourself is what you’re called to do…
I invite you to Feast.
Connection is hard enough without the ‘no fly zone’ of food and body preoccupation between us.
Here’s the rub: we need connection with each other like we need air and yet nothing scares us more than connection, than being seen, than being so vulnerable we could be rejected.
We need connection and yet we live during a technologically-centric era of human civilization where real connection is often traded for isolated screen-time and high-light reels.
We need connection but judge ourselves so harshly we don’t give others a chance to see, like, or love us.
And with connection so essential and already so challenging, what we don’t need is the added barrier of body shame and food obsession.
I thought this the other night as my partner’s hand traversed the curve and softness of my belly and I could actually feel all that didn’t stand between us — and all that could — and all that does.
Because connection is hard and it’s everything.
I thought of this because I know what life feels like when we don’t love, or even like ourselves. I know what life looks like when we’re hungry, empty longing for a crumb of connection.
I know what life looked like before and I know — hallelujah — what life looks like on the other side. I know just how unnecessary the wall is that our loathing, shame, preoccupation, and obsessions build. I know how easy it is to think that we’re the weird one, that we’re the exception to the rule, and that everyone else but us is deserving.
At another time in my life when a partner lovingly touched my body though we were in the same room, in the same bed there were miles and miles between us.
Tear the wall down. Even if it’s grain of sand by grain of sand.
Behave kindly toward yourself. Don’t proclaim to do this. Bring it to life in small tender moments.
Practice inhabiting your own skin. Don’t proclaim to do this either. Rather, right now, feel your skin touch the air and your thighs touch your seat.
Most of all feed yourself so the gnaw of hunger quiets and you can make the connections that are what you’ve been hungry for all along.
In a trance-like state I went to the refrigerator and quickly took out one raw ravioli and ate it. Then I walked away, shame-filled, only to be back for another less than a minute later. I did this until every one of them was eaten.
That’s how I spent one Thanksgiving some years ago.
That year I wasn’t making the trek to be with family and no local invitations had materialized.
While I was lonely and sad to be spending the day solo, I had intended to make a special meal of fresh butternut squash ravioli with browned butter.
The meal never came to be because leading up to it I was overtaken with shame about my out of control relationship with food, guilt for planning a “carb and fat-laden” meal, and intense feelings of sadness I didn’t know how to experience.
So I mindlessly ate cold raw ravioli until they were gone and my belly ached and I crawled into bed to watch something on television that would take me as far away from my reality as possible.
When I think about what’s changed in my life that makes that night feel like such a distant memory and such an impossibility today it boils down to peace.
And peace isn’t something I declared in one broad sweeping moment from which I never looked back.
Peace was something I had to declare moment by moment. Urge by urge. Frightful thought to frightful thought. Peace became my practice and like any practice there was no expectation that I perform flawlessly right out of the gate.
To this day calling for a truce is one of my favorite disarmament tools.
Here’s how it might go:
Recognize that you’re in opposition, afraid, or feeling threatened. You might be feeling opposed to your feelings, to your thighs, to your dinner plate, or to your scale. Make a point to learn the symptoms of being at war. Notice what it feels like so you can recognize it better next time.
Name your experience. “I’m feeling at war” or “I’m feeling like I’m on the opposing team playing against ______.”
Breathe. Feel the sensation of your breath entering and exiting your lungs.
Pause. Even if for one minute, decide to stay put with your experience. Don’t get up. Don’t distract yourself. Stay. If you can only do ten seconds, then start with ten seconds.
Inquire. Be curious. Ask with sincerity:
Sweetheart, how are you? What’s hurting?
How does the tug-of-war feel?
What are you resisting?
Where did you learn that [what you’re fighting] is something to fear/resist?
What would/could it look like to call a truce?
What if you’re actually on the same team at what you’re fighting?
What if, just in this moment right now, you put down the weapon and proceed from here gently, holding your own hand?
Can you, just for now, choose peace over everything else?
Another helpful addition to this practice, one that came in handy in interrupting my lightening fast dash to the kitchen, was designating a special chair as a my remembering chair. In my living room I have a big, oatmeal-colored linen wingback chair that I love and I used it as a sacred place to pause and remember myself. Many times I would only pause there for a moment before I would get pulled gravitationally toward food, but over time those moments got longer, the choices more plentiful, and my own ceasefire grew deeper roots.
I don’t know if I’d have been able to stop myself from eating all the ravioli in their cold, raw state had I asked these questions or sat in that chair. I don’t know if I would have made it to the table with a hot, lovingly prepared meal that night had I just hit the pause button.
I do know however that I practiced this for years after that Thanksgiving and over time it worked. It allowed me to slow things down enough to have a choice in what was happening. This practice allowed me to slow myself down enough to see that what I thought was the enemy (myself, my body, food) was actually an ally. This practice allowed me to see that there was nothing to fear in the present reality of my experience.
Pausing for peace is a favorite practice and when paired with self-compassion I’ve seen it move mountains.